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Inside the Military-Robotics Complex

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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military robot dragon runner qinetiqThe quiet, suburban neighborhoods and strip malls that line Route 128, the main highway that circumscribes the Greater Boston area, hardly betray the area’s high-tech firepower. Since the 1950s, this corridor has played host to seminal technology companies such as Digital Equipment Corp., Raytheon and Sun Microsystems.

Amidst this high-tech stew, the corridor has also become a hotbed for military robotics, particularly those that roll or even walk on terra firma. Companies such as Boston Dynamics, iRobot and QinetiQ, all live within about 10 miles of each other and manufacture the Big Dog, Packbot and TALON robots respectively.

Scientific American visited iRobot and QinetiQ earlier this month for a first-hand glimpse of their military robots, and to see how they’ve been used and where the technology is headed next.   We also asked the military division heads of these companies for their views on the ethics of using armed robots in warfare. As political scientist Peter Singer writes in the July issue of Scientific American, the "growing use of robots…raises deep political, legal and ethical questions about the fundamental nature of warfare and whether these technologies could inadvertently make wars easier to start."





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  1. 1. tichead 10:52 pm 06/23/2010

    "Give me your clothes, NOW!" Enter the "Terminators". Actually, as long as real breathing and bleeding people are controlling these things, I’m all for it. I worry about the autonomous bots. They get lost, confused, hungry, then they get cranky, and before long there is lots of running and screaming and dying… All because the human neuron was removed from the decision process. Then again, is that so different than before robots?

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  2. 2. bagsjr 4:14 pm 07/6/2010

    Are any other countries more advanced than the US in this field? No discussion on any of these videos on what other countries are developing.

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  3. 3. tichead 11:47 pm 07/9/2010

    bagsjr: No, the US is the best for now. But, everybody else with the resources is doing their best to catch up and overtake the US. The Chinese, Russians, and Isrealis appear to moving the fastest on these things. One thing to remember is that each is developing equipment suited to their particular needs, real or percieved, and comparing any two is not always practical. Overall, the US has the most and the most advanced robots available regardless of need.

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